No Mere Memoir

Pastoral Prayer: Holy One, we often find ourselves out of place, even out of sorts. This happens when we compare ourselves with you. And, when we by your Spirit choose faithfulness to the way of Jesus and are at odds with the idols we find in our world, sometimes even within, remind us today the Good News that no matter how we assess ourselves, or others describe us, our liberation is all your work, in Christ, for all. And all God’s people say . . . Amen

1 Peter 1:17-23

I’m out of sorts.

Consider Ariel Dorfman.

Ariel Dorfman was born in Buenos Aries in 1942 to Adolf Dorfman who himself was born in Odessa, formerly the Russian Empire. Ariel lived in the United States for a period of time and then in 1954 his parents moved to Chile. Ariel became a Chilean citizen in 1967. He went to graduate school in California. Since 1990 he and his wife have split time living between the United States and Santiago. In 2004 Ariel became a United States Citizen.

Recently Dorfman wrote a piece titled, Covid-19 and the Lessons of Life in Exile. His essay begins,

Whatever you thought was steady and predictable has now turned out to be alien and dangerous. You can no longer interact with your family or friends or other members of your community face to face — never mind hug or touch them. Your routines and habits have been upended, and you face new deprivations, a reversal for which you were unprepared. Nor can you depend on long-standing safety nets that would supposedly always be there for you. As for strangers, you can’t tell which ones could imperil your safety, and who might offer assistance. Distance becomes the norm.

That’s a description of life for countless millions in the times of the coronavirus. Yes, but it also captures the daily experience — from the very beginning of history — of vast numbers of exiles and migrants as they discover how to survive a journey into the unknown.

Did you see what Dorfman did there? He took our current pandemic response and described it in terms an exile or migrant would understand. Have you ever considered yourself in exile? A migrant?

Peter wrote a letter to a circle of cities in Asia Minor sometime after Jesus’ death in the first century before himself being crucified upside down, according to Tradition. In much the same way that Dorfman uses the current pandemic to draw attention to the experience of exiles, of migrants, the Apostle Peter calls back to Israel’s own experience as exiles. Where Dorfman wants to offer advice from exiles and migrants to we who have now had that experience, maybe for the first time, Peter points out that the event of Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead provides the source for our living as God’s people in a world under threat of a different virus – Sin and Death.

It seems that no matter from what angle we look at life as we now live it, the message keeps coming back that we are all the same. Yes, we have sought unity in the same-ness that is life in the time of a pandemic by asserting that, “we are all in this together.” But, the Christian story is one that points out that all people have lived under the constant weight of a world turned in on itself. A world where things meant to help us are offered as a means to overcome the virus while at the same time risking our very lives. And, the Christian story is talking about the virus that is described as Sin and Death.

In our current experience, we have all had some firsthand experience as exiles. Think about it from the standpoint of those you know whose working lives, before retirement, years ago, was characterized by phone, fax, and snail mail. Many attended churches that never had the money or the notion to buy television time to broadcast their services and the Christian message over airwaves. Theirs was a practice of faith where people shared the same physical space for worship and encouragement. The idea that they would become an IP address that registers their attendance at church on their phone, tablet, computer or Smart TV, has left them exiles from the sort of church that Pastor Brian Zhand described as, 

Real church. Actual church. Go-to-church-and-be-with-people-you-have-nothing-in-common-with-except-that-you-both-love-Jesus-and-go-to-the-same-church church.

They are migrants to learning about the Internet, Church emails, Church Push Notifications, Instagram Stories, FB Live videos, Zoom meetings and live-streaming church. But, they have lessons, stories they could tell, of other times in their life where the world they knew had become new and different and adapting and adjusting was part of living. Just like Dorfman’s essay.

But, Peter does something different. He does not write a letter where he tells Christians in that circle of cities in Asia Minor all about the lessons he has learned, and he has learned plenty. He did not write a memoir from which to offer insight about his life of denial and restoration, of confession and rebuke, of confidence and fear, of violence and peace. 

Instead, the Apostle Peter rooted his imperatives for exiles in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Peter did not decide to tell the story of God as a human story writ large. He did not tell of a God who is really just a description of the best of humanity projected onto Deity. No, Peter reminds those whose lives are subject to isolation, economic disaster and even bodily harm that God makes the human story a new creation event in Jesus, the Christ.

We are less than a week away from the first phase of re-establishing life no longer lived at a distance. And, when Peter points to the gift of God in the Lord Jesus Christ, he does not do so with the apprehension that comes with the uncertainty of a three-phase plan to re-open America, even Oklahoma. No, Peter points to the event of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. By faith, Peter describes the event of the resurrection of Jesus as the moment that the virus infecting humanity, namely Sin and Death, can no longer keep human beings uncertain of their future. All who are in Christ are described as receiving,

new birth into a living hope . . . an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading

Scholars have spent a great deal of time working to locate Peter’s reference to suffering as a Christian as part of a State-sponsored event in order to assign a time, a date, for his letter. What appears to be the consensus is that these events were more localized, more personal. What Christians encountered along the way was social isolation for their lack of participation in the normal religious habits. Whether is was the cult of Caesar, the various mystery religions of the day, or the worship of pagan deities represented in idols of silver and gold, those who had received the gift of God revealed in Christ Jesus found themselves exiles living in their own cities. Shunned socially meant economically disadvantaged.

Faced with the challenges, even suffering, those to whom Peter writes may have been tempted to adjust their convictions so as to make themselves acceptable to the social, political, and economic powers from which they feel excluded. The desire to participate in those earth-bound forms of power tempt us all to find certainty when we are uncertain wondering, “if they like me, do I measure up, do I have enough.” 

The virus known as Sin and Death had once kept these exiles captive to empty habits with the alleged promise to give them confidence. Even we Christians today find that our own desires for certainty are met with the requirements of a culture that include social laws to abide lest we face economic threat and political pressure. It is here that the exiles to whom Peter writes face the decision of looking for a way their new birth in Christ could somehow be combined with the habits and practices that keep them from social isolation and economic insecurity often sourced in political pressure. 

When we give in, the Good News is no longer good and it is really old news. 

The other temptation the exiles may have faced is to live into their isolation. Turn inward and only associate with those just like them. Create alternative markets. Establish exclusive social settings. Avoid any political engagement. 

Christian history provides illustrations for these two temptations. They seem to show up in every generation in one form or another. The Apostle Peter’s letter proves the Preacher of Ecclesiastes, 

There is nothing new under the sun.

That is, until we take account that Peter’s letter opens with a reminder of God’s gift of grace in Jesus the Christ that liberates us from the effects of the virus of Sin and Death. No longer captive to desires we cannot satisfy with habits that cannot deliver on their promise these exiles, we exiles, have been ransomed with that which is more precious than silver or gold, the standards of human value. Jesus Christ himself is our ransom who frees.

Our new found freedom is not a temporary condition. Instead it is a present reality that gives us hope for our future no matter the experiences of life. We have learned through Jesus’ faithful trust in the God who raised him from the dead that we too may put our trust in God receiving a living hope – Jesus himself.

Trusting in God’s truth, in Jesus, purifies us from desires we cannot satisfy and from the futile means we imply to try. Out of sorts we realize that the gift of God’s grace rooted in God revealed in Jesus produces a genuine mutual love, a love for one another from the heart, that itself becomes the Church’s means of both talking about and illustrating the Good News of God in Jesus Christ.

Church, Christians, Peter uses strong appeals to remind us that in Christ we are always in the right place. Those of you yet to trust Christ, we appeal to you not by virtue of our own wisdom, not by the memoirs of our life, instead, we appeal to you by the living word of God – Jesus himself – that God has defeated the virus that leaves us all out of place, out of sorts, no matter what our experiences of life. 

I generally take a manuscript with me to preach each week. However, the preached message is often a bit different than what you will find here. You may listen here.

About the Author
Husband to Patty. Daddy to Kimberly and Tommie. Grandpa Doc to Cohen, Max, Fox, and Marlee. Pastor to Snow Hill Baptist Church. Graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Reading. Photography. Golf. Colorado. Jeeping. Friend. The views and opinions expressed here are my own and should not be construed as representing the corporate views of the church I pastor.

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